BANGKOK: The news comes in a week in which Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, made contact with Twitter and Facebook over what the government considers to be a deteriorating situation with rampant fake news during the Covid 19 emergency. Since last week, more Thai people are working from home and turning to online news to follow news of the pandemic not only in Thailand but around the world.

The Thai public has never relied on internet news so much as during this unprecedented emergency. A Suan Dusit survey published on Sunday shows that the majority of people do not want government control of news or censorship even in the context of national emergencies. The survey indicates that the public is quite sophisticated in its use of online media. It is also aware of how to deal with online news sources as well as the threat of fake news. In fact, in the current emergency, fake news was one of the issues of least concern with only 14% suggesting it was a matter that should be prioritised and just over 13% of people in agreement with a national news pool for emergency situations.

The Minister of Digital Society and Economy Buddhipongse Punnakanta took Twitter and Facebook to task this week over a deteriorating situation and rise of fake news surrounding the Covid 19 virus emergency in Thailand. However, a Suan Dusit Poll on Sunday revealed that fake news is a very low priority for the Thai public. A majority support an open flow of information from a variety of news sources on any given issue of concern to them. The public also seemed to be aware of fake news and many had techniques for filtering the news to gain a fair and accurate picture.

A survey conducted in the three days to Saturday with a sample of over 1,000 people has shown that Thai people source and consume their news about the Covid 19 outbreak primarily online.

The poll was undertaken and presented by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University. It was published in Thailand’s Bangkok Post newspaper on Sunday.

Minister for the Digital Economy and Society not happy with an escalation in fake news incidents

It comes as the government and in particular Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, has warned that the problem with fake news has worsened as the crisis over the Covid 19 virus grows. 

The ministry of the Digital Economy and Society oversees Thailand’s fake news centre, launched last November, which monitors online news activity and receives regular input from the public.

The minister pointed the finger at social media, in particular, the Twitter and Facebook social media platforms for helping spread such information.

He said that he had reached out to both social media firms this week seeking stronger action to prevent fake news proliferation on these popular platforms.

Thai public is quite sophisticated in its consumption habits for news and online content according to poll

Nonetheless, the survey results published on Sunday show that Thai people are quite sophisticated in following the news and managing the media available to them.

A full 79% of respondents said that they obtained information about the Covid 19 virus online through social media and news websites.

Like most people around the world, Thais have become quite adept at using social media as a gateway to a range of news platforms which vary in levels of authority and news formats.

Online media followed by TV as the main news source

Online media was followed in the survey closely by television which 77% plumped for as a source of news on the virus.

However, TV is considered by 89% of Thai people as the most authoritative source of news in this emergency followed by printed news at 63% and radio news at 56%.

Nealy 43% admitted that they also valued news on a word of mouth basis from friends and neighbours.

This is often a secret channel for rumours, conspiracy theories and the most dangerous fake news content.

Public is aware that online news has reliability issues but users compensate for this with multiple sources

55% of the people interviewed said they found online news reliable suggesting that people are aware of misleading or sensational news content.

This was a full 34 points beneath TV news content in Thailand.

This was supported by the fact that 41% of Thai news consumers said they considered the authority or reliability of individual media outlets when reading online news. 

Over 32% said they collected news from different online sources and weighed them in the balance to gain an accurate picture. 

20% said they had a personal policy of only waiting for confirmation of the news from official or government news sources.

Nearly 17% expressed the view that they only rely on mainstream news coverage from established traditional media.

Most people in Thailand worried by the spread and infectiousness of the Covid 19 virus at this time

The survey showed heightened levels of concern of respondents relating to the virus emergency in Thailand.

Over 36% were worried at the level of infectiousness of this virus with the devastating news being received from throughout the globe concerning the pandemic on a daily basis.

Over 30% said that this information was their main cause of worry right now.

Neary 27% of Thai people had concerns or misgivings about the government’s handling of the crisis while 19% said they worried after hearing of irresponsible people failing to self isolate.

Only 14% of people said they were concerned about the impact of fake news.

Some in government have floated the idea of a pooled news source for coverage of national crises

Some government officials and supporters, in the aftermath of the massacre by a gunman in Nakhon Ratchasima in early February, had floated the idea of pooling news resources and control or oversight of news concerning national crises.

This was proposed to ensure that skewed or irresponsible reporting did not exacerbate or contribute to such problems in particular where state and public security may be compromised.

The Suan Dusit poll appears to reject this idea with nearly 55% of the public saying they wished to have not only trustworthy news but also any information available on any issue relevant to them whatever the source or provenance.

In relation to the Covid 19 virus emergency, just over 34% supported the idea of having news reported on the subject constructively while 25% agreed that news on critical issues should be supported by expert opinion.

Just over 15% wanted to see the sourcing of news clarified on all information while only 13.31% supported the idea of a pooled source of news censored or controlled by one media outlet appointed by and overseen by the government.

Millions of Thai people working from home, more online than ever before and reading news of the crisis

The emergency in Thailand, since last week, has seen millions of Thai people working from home for the first time. 

It has also seen many more millions of people eagerly sourcing news and information about the outbreak not only in Thailand but around the world on this historic and challenging crisis that impacts everyone in the short term and is also destined to define our futures.

Top Thai internet firm TRUE responds positively to the needs of its customers this week

One of Thailand’s leading internet service providers, True Corporation, has been monitoring the effects of the emergency and responding to demand by its customers for more bandwidth.

It has seen a massive 52% upsurge in internet bandwidth usage through traditional internet connections used from PCs and home communications while also experiencing a nearly 19% rise in mobile usage.

Jirachai Kunakorn, the Chief Network Operations Officer of the Thai company, said True was increasing both its national and international bandwidth usage to continue to offer customers the best level of service.

24-hour service remains available even as True workers field service requests from home

‘We realise that communication infrastructure is one of the basic needs of modern people especially in the time of virus crisis where people are advised to keep their distance from each other but still need to stay in touch,’ Mr Jirachai announced. ‘True will make sure that our customers have a seamless online experience whether they are watching breaking news, working from home via video conferencing or browsing entertainment content from international sources.’

The top True Corporation executive also assured the company’s customers that its highly valued customer support service would continue to work 24 hours a day fielding service calls and keeping users connected even where it means its technicians and support personnel themselves are also working from home.

Further reading:

Emergency centre led by the Prime Minister takes power on Thursday to fight the Covid 19 virus in Thailand

Thai minister proposes a central news agency to control news in emergencies and national crises

Fake news centre ready as rights activists push for the toning down of the Computer Crime Act

Digital Economy Ministry working to have Thai fake news centre up and running by November 1st